The following vignette delves into the minds of a warrior and peasant girl who change the course of each other’s lives during the “teaser” for SINS OF THE PAST
She paused at the crest of a majestic hill, a proud silhouette against the sun, hands unconsciously gentling the restless Palomino beneath her, eyes reflecting the hue of the sky, the blue expanding in her study of white wisps floating overhead. Had it always been thus? So serene, so comforting? She scanned the rolling emerald landscape, the sparkling silver that pooled and coursed in valleys below. This breathtaking? Yes, she nodded, remembering. She had even felt part of it once. Before the day she’d vowed to make it all hers.
Absently rubbing the material between her hands, oblivious to the chatter of others rinsing their wash in the stream, she lifted her green eyes heavenward, seeming to lose herself in clouds crowning the valley, but as usual somewhere else. Mainly exotic lands she’d heard and read about. Any place but the sleepy farming village where she’d never truly belong. Sighing, she wrung the water from her one good dress, still dreaming wistfully of the day when everything "out there" might all be hers.
The dark rider shuddered, blood and flames obscuring her vision, the clash of swords and screaming villagers haunting her memories once more. That boy she’d encountered in those ruins had told of a demon coming from the sky, throwing thunderbolts, breathing fire, turning his home and parents into smoke. She’d tossed him some bread and cheese before seeking to leave the demon behind. But it was still with her, as real as that boy’s hunger. She shook her head, gazing down at her battle-toughened hands, wondering how many crumbs of guilt or compassion could ever restore the callused heart responsible for such horror.
The young woman shook her golden head, chiding herself for continuing to believe in a life boundless enough to free her generous mind and heart, or that excitement actually lay over those hills just waiting for her to escape. "I’m finished," she called to her mother and sister, placing the last of her laundry in a basket. "I’m going to start on home." At their nods, she began walking away. It was then that she heard it -- a strange commotion coming from the trees behind them. The others turned that way too. Only she headed over to investigate, as usual, in her welcoming curiosity, alone.
With a parting look at the vista from her lofty vantage, the warrior kneed her horse into motion, smiling without humor as they descended. Another time she’d have gloried in being queen of the hill, supreme in her distance from anyone crazy enough to approach, appreciating the solitude after so many years surrounded by killers like herself. Today, lost in the wonder of the world she’d disdained, she saw herself for what she was. Alone.
The excitement she’d craved startled her. She hadn’t imagined snarling men bursting forth, brandishing weapons, chasing and herding her kinspeople like sheep. "This isn’t right!" she shouted desperately into the surrounding chaos. She ran to shield her mother from the demon bearing down on her. "Leave her alone!" she cried, trying to push him away, ignoring her mother’s pleas not to anger him. He laughed at her bravado, effortlessly knocking her to the ground. Frantic, she scrabbled away, searching for help, for any way to stop this. But all she saw was the men from her village being dragged toward them, captives to join the women already penned.
The warrior dismounted. Strode to a clearing in a stand of trees. Seemed as good a place as any for a burial. She knelt and dug a shallow hole. Tossed in it the weapons, gauntlets and battle dress that marked her. Already feeling more vulnerable, her blood-latticed innards exposed. Wouldn’t she be better though, stripped down to an ordinary being? Ridding herself of all that had set her so apart? Or was it in reality more like the serpent, merely shedding its skin. She began sweeping dirt over what she’d been, emotions dead to mourning the corpse that might as well lie there too. Rest in peace? As if she deserved even that. Then she heard it -- a commotion heading her way. Instinctively alert now, she retreated to wait behind the trees.
She couldn’t believe it. Slavers. Come to ship her and the others off - perhaps to somewhere she’d dreamed about, but not at all to the life she’d pictured. No one deserved that, certainly not her mother, nor girls like her younger sister who would lose the chance to dream. The nightmare ignited something deep within her. Outrage burned through her fear, exposing the fire underneath. "Take me!" she demanded, feet moving her without thought to stand defiant before their captors. "Let the others go!"
Clad only in her white undergarment, looking even less a warrior than the peasants huddled fearfully a short distance away, she stared in amazement at the scene unfolding before her. Not because of the evil. No, she was used to that – good, since that was the kind of trouble she sought to escape. Not that girl, though. The one who’d torn herself from her family, eyes blazing, prepared to confront the evil, alone, with nothing save her life. Then defied the rough hand that tried to subject her. Crazy, if brave. The kind of behavior the dark-haired woman recognized, which warranted at least a beating from any self-respecting warlord. Her fingers twitched. But not today. Not to that girl. It simply, unavoidably, wouldn’t be right.
She cringed, awaiting the strike that would tell just how little her life, her dreams meant. It didn’t come. Something – someone – stopped the man with the whip, in a flash sending him tumbling. Was now dispatching his buddies like rag dolls. A goddess had appeared among them, throwing thunderbolts, breathing fire, fearless and alone. The young woman felt courage burning again, saw it reflected in the eyes of her kinspeople. They joined in beating the slavers back. The goddess saved her a second time. For an instant their eyes met, her own widening in alarm as her rescuer was knocked to the ground -- no goddess maybe, but an extraordinary ordinary woman who could be hurt.
They’d stunned her with a blow to the head, at the same time clearing her mind. In fact, though brought to her knees, she realized she had them - herself - right where she wanted. She peered up at the slavers through disheveled hair, feigning defeat, hands furtively uncovering the grave of her recently interred battle gear. There. Her fingers closed around steel, igniting fire so close to the surface it crackled from every pore. She brought her sword up to block a strike, threw her chakram to thwart the others. She rose, more alive than she could remember in some time, feeling purposeful in her skin again. Dangerous. Bared her teeth in a chilling smile, warned of her resurrection with a bloodcurdlingly celebratory "Yiyiyiyiyi!"
"Xena." A notorious name the young woman’s people whispered among themselves when they heard it, their initial gratitude dwindling now that they were saved. She didn’t care what they said. She couldn’t take her eyes off the warrior, who seemed to have forgotten them in her careful unearthing of some hidden or discarded possessions. It reminded her of children digging up secreted treasures they weren’t supposed to have or were afraid someone else would want too much. Or too little. Her heart opened in understanding, filling with recognition of the courage, the chance, a way at last to uncover what lay inside herself, "out there." With only the slightest trepidation, she approached their dark-haired savior, suddenly resolved not to let her get away.
She brushed what she hoped was the last dirt from her battle dress, her lips curled in self-mockery. So much for shedding who she was. That girl obviously didn’t know. Had walked right up and invited – ha! more like commanded – the warrior to come with them. She’d hesitated, wanting to be alone once more, needing time to get used to caring again. The others would want her gone soon enough, but she owed … "Gabrielle" was it? … some consideration. The girl had summoned the best from her. Penetrated the darkness around what was buried, showing it not so useless after all. Reminded her there were good fights to die in, people worth living to defend. Even if you lost them -- yourself -- trying. Maybe at least she’d helped that girl escape such a fate. Given her another chance to survive in this valley with her loved ones, safe, happy.
The dark woman shrugged. Couldn’t hurt to spend a few extra moments accepting the hospitality offered, letting someone tend her wounds. It was a start. The polite thing to do. Her expectantly foot-tapping would-be hostess certainly seemed to think so. The warrior smiled wryly, then whistled for her horse, shouldered her stuff and followed the crazy, brave girl home.
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